A bunion (hallux valgus) is an enlargement of the bone or tissue around a joint at the base of the big toe or at the base of the little toe (in which case it is called a “bunionette” or “tailor’s bunion”). Bunions often occur when the joint is stressed over a prolonged period. Ninety percent of bunions occur in women, primarily because women may be more likely to wear tight, pointed, and confining shoes. Bunions may be inherited as a family trait. Bunions may also result from arthritis, which often affects the big toe joint.
What causes bunions? This question is often answered by blaming shoes. But in fact, shoes only play a small role in developing bunions. Yes, shoes, especially high heels cause abnormal squeezing of your forefoot. This in turn to help promote a bunion. But if everyone who wore high heels shoes had a bunion, there would be a lot more then the 15% prevalence we see in the general population. As you can see from the flow chart, genetics plays the major role in development of bunion deformities. Genetics determines the way your foot functions. Are you flatfooted? Are your joints flexible or stiff? Do you have a high arch? Do you have tight muscles? These traits are determined by your genetic code. These characteristics then govern how your bones and joints move when you walk. As an example, if your joints are very flexible, this can cause an abnormal amount of instability in your forefoot when you walk. Over time, this abnormal motion will cause the a bunion to develop by allowing your first metatarsal to “drift” towards the mid-line of your body.
SymptomsThe symptoms of a bunion include the following development of a firm bump on the outside edge of the foot, at the base of the big toe, redness, swelling, or pain at or near the MTP joint, corns or other irritations caused by the overlap of the first and second toes, restricted or painful motion of the big toe.
Bunions are readily apparent – the prominence is visible at the base of the big toe or side of the foot. However, to fully evaluate the condition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformity and assess the changes that have occurred. Because bunions are progressive, they don?t go away, and will usually get worse over time. But not all cases are alike – some bunions progress more rapidly than others. Once your surgeon has evaluated your bunion, a treatment plan can be developed that is suited to your needs.
Non Surgical Treatment
If overpronation is diagnosed early enough, the mechanics of the feet can be adjusted using a prescription orthotic. If orthotics are worn consistently, many major foot deformities can be avoided such as bunions. Early detection is of paramount importance. When a bunion progresses and cannot be controlled by an orthotic, surgical correction may be a consideration. Many advances in bunion correction allow for surgical intervention to make healing and return to normal activities much easier than use of traditional bunion surgery.
When the pain of a bunion interferes with daily activities, and conservative treatment has been completed it’s time to discuss surgical options. Foot Mechanics has excellent relationships with many Orthopaedic Surgeons, who are the specialists who perform bunion surgery. Because bunions are caused by faulty foot mechanics surgery can improve the look of your feet by removing the ?bump? but if the underlying mechanics are not addressed then the bunion is likely to return. For this reason orthotics are used post-surgery to prevent the return of bunions.
If you are genetically at risk, not a lot. But shoes that are too narrow, too tight (even ballet flats) or have very high heels that force your toes down into the pointed end are asking for trouble. Aim for a 1cm gap between your toes and the end of your shoes. This doesn?t mean wearing frumpy flatties, the Society of Podiatrists and Chiropodists recommends sticking to 4cm heels for everyday wear, and wearing different types of shoe to vary the position of your foot. Gladiator styles can help because the straps stop your foot pushing down into the point of the shoe, ditto Mary Janes (sorry but for beautiful feet they need to have a strap), and flat, wide-fitting brogues are a no-brainer. Alternatively, in summer you can wear flip-flops to keep the space between your big and second toe as wide as possible. If you have children it?s vital to make sure that their feet are measured for properly fitting shoes to nip any potential problems in the bud. Keeping your feet and lower legs supple and strong is important too, that?s how A-list celebs get away with wearing killer heels, they all work-out like crazy. Exercises like trying to widen the space between your big toe and the second one with your foot flat on the floor, a few times a day can help, as can calf stretches. If you are devoted to any exercise that involves high impact for your feet, it might be worth checking that your gait and shoes are correct with a specialist shop such as Runners Need, as poor styles can cause irreparable bunion-related problems that will consign your trainers to the back of the cupboard for ever.